A vote on codifying federal protections for same-sex marriage demonstrated a sharp political evolution for Republicans on the issue over the last decade, with nearly four dozen House GOP members voting in favor of the legislation.
The House Republican Conference gave members breathing room by not whipping votes against the bill, which Democrats brought up in response to concerns about the Supreme Court potentially reversing course on the case that protected the right for same-sex couples to marry
Titled the Respect for Marriage Act, the bill would also repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage for federal purposes as being between one man and one woman.
“I’m sure we’ll probably be split” on the bill, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said of the conference on Tuesday morning, noting that he does not formally whip the conference for or against most bills.
Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), vice chairman of the House GOP conference, said that the whip team communicated to members that the vote was “a matter of personal conscience.”
In the end, 47 House Republicans voted for the bill, including two members of House GOP leadership: Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer (Minn.).
“It’s the right vote, and I’m proud to vote for it,” said Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-N.Y.).
The vote also cemented an evolution for Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who expressed opposition to same-sex marriage in 2013 despite her sister Mary being married to another woman. Cheney expressed regret for that position in an interview last year.
The number of House GOP votes, accounting for about a fifth of the conference, bodes well for the legislation’s chance of passing in the Senate, where it would need at least 10 Republican votes to pass. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Monday expressed optimism about the bill’s chances of reaching the 60-vote threshold necessary to pass in the chamber.
Though the majority of House Republican conference voted against the bill, Republicans against it largely did not center their arguments on the acceptability of same-sex marriage. Instead, they focused on the feeling that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi aimed to use the vote as a political tool in the midterms.
The bill was a response to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that overturned the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade. Thomas suggested the court “reconsider” its substantive due process precedents — including in the case that legalized same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges.
Republicans countered that the majority opinion in Dobbs said that its overturning Roe should not cast doubt on precedents like Obergefell. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said on the House floor that the bill was a “further effort to intimidate the Court.”
Others, like Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), said they were against the bill because they think recognition of same-sex marriage should be left up to the states.
Several Republicans, including Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) and Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), expressed hesitation on Tuesday morning about voting for the bill due to the political maneuvering of Democrats and the speediness with which it was brought to a vote without going through committees. But later on Tuesday evening, they voted for it.
Bacon said that he thinks many Republicans have softened on the issue of same-sex marriage. His own decision on how to vote on the bill was a “little bit of a tug-of-war” due to his religious convictions, but weighed that against the fact that same-sex marriage had been legal nationally for seven years, and that the country is not going to go backwards.
“I have brothers who are gay,” Bacon said. “I have a view that people have a right to live their lives the way they want.”
The Log Cabin Republicans, a group representing LGBT conservatives, said that Democrats’ aim to get Republicans on the record on the issue was a reason to vote for the bill rather than against it.
“Democrats, desperate to deflect from the disastrous leadership of the Biden-Harris Administration, are trying to use this election year vote to paint the GOP as out of step with the rest of the country,” Log Cabin Republicans President Charles Moran said in a statement. “There are critical fights to be had in the coming months on issues like the Left’s assault on Title IX and gender identity lessons in kindergarten classrooms, but Republican voters increasingly agree marriage equality is not one of them.”
Support for same-sex marriage among U.S. adults reached 71 percent in a May 2022 Gallup poll, the highest percentage since the company started measuring support for it in 1996. Gallup found that a majority, 55 percent, of Republicans supported same-sex marriage in 2021.
Weekly churchgoers are the primary demographic likely to oppose same-sex marriage, Gallup found, with 58 percent in that group opposed.
That religious segment is still present among GOP members and their voter base.
In 2019 and 2020, former Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) was censured by some local GOP committees, which his office at the time said was retaliation against him officiating a same-sex wedding.
The congressman who replaced Riggleman, Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), voted against the bill.
“I’m a biblical conservative, I believe in God’s definition of marriage. And, you know, God’s perfect design is one man for one woman for a lifetime,” Good said. “I don’t think the Supreme Court should have tried to make law on that issue.”